The San Diego County Grand Jury heard testimony Tuesday from managers of some of the area's top restaurants as it launched its investigation into City Councilman Uvaldo Martinez's use of a city-issued credit card.
Prosecutors expect the inquiry, scheduled to last several weeks, to establish whether Martinez and Rudy Murillo, formerly his chief aide, knowingly misused public funds when they charged thousands of dollars in meals to taxpayers in the year ending June 30.
Two dozen people have told The Times they did not dine with Martinez on the dates he claimed in expense reports submitted to city auditors or that they did not discuss city business during the meals.
More than 45 witnesses are scheduled to appear before the 19-member grand jury, which prosecutors have said will review details of about 25 of Martinez's credit-card meals.
Five of the six witnesses who testified Tuesday confirmed for reporters that they worked for area restaurants. The sixth witness declined to answer questions, explaining that she had been admonished during her testimony not to comment on the grand jury proceedings.
Robin Scott, general manager of the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant in Escondido, said he testified about receipts from a May, 1985, meal at which Martinez initially claimed he dined with Poway City Manager Jim Bowersox and then-Mayor Bob Emery. Bowersox has said he never ate at the restaurant and Emery has said he could not recall ever eating a meal with Martinez.
Other witnesses identified themselves as managers or employees of the Brigantine, Avanti, and L'Escargot restaurants--all the sites of meals charged by Martinez to his city credit card for which the dates or guests are in dispute.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Allan Preckel, who is presenting the case to the grand jury, declined to discuss the investigation.
Prosecutors have said previously that the charges under consideration include misappropriation and unauthorized use of public funds and knowingly making false entries in public accounts. Each count would carry a maximum penalty of four years in prison and a $10,000 fine. A felony conviction would bar Martinez or Murillo from holding elected office.
Martinez, who has pledged to cooperate with the grand jury, has insisted the discrepancies are errors attributable to sloppy record-keeping. He has supplied prosecutors an 800-page report detailing his expenditures and apologized to the City Council for the episode, acknowledging "errors in judgment" by him and Murillo in charging $9,500 in meals to the city in the year ending June 30.
Neither Martinez nor his court-appointed attorney, Jerry Coughlan, was present during the day-long grand jury session.